Musée d'Orsay: The De Wendel Company, Three Centuries of Industry in Lorraine (1704-2004)

The De Wendel Company, Three Centuries of Industry in Lorraine (1704-2004)


Charles de BertierThe Forges in Hayange in 1866© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
A genuine industrial epic started in 1704 when Jean-Martin Wendel bought a half-ruined forge in Hayange, a small village in the valley of the Fensch. Originally from Bruges, the family settled in Lorraine headed by Christian de Wendel (1636-1708). His youngest son, Jean-Martin, became director of the Ottange forges before becoming in Hayange the first of a long line of forge masters that directed the enterprise until 1978. On this pioneer's death, his sons inherited five forges in full activity the history of which was soon to cross that of the famous royal foundry in Le Creusot, of which Ignace de Wendel, his grandson, was one of the founders. The latter is a remarkable figure, not only an great engineer fond of technical innovations, but also a writer and a philosopher, a "man of the Enlightenment", exiled in Germany during the Revolution, a friend of Goethe, then minister in charge of mines and forges.

AnonymousMarguerite d'Hausen, known as Madame d'Hayange© Denis Ernwein
Women played a great role in this adventure: Madame d'Hayange, Charles de Wendel's widow from 1784 onwards, remained alone to face the revolutionary turmoil; the forges were confiscated, and the widow jailed in Sarreguemines. In 1803, the forges had to be bought back, a kind of second founding. Later, Madame François de Wendel, who lost her husband in 1825, and her son, Charles, in 1870, had to deal with the territory’s annexation by Germany. It was she who created the Society of François de Wendel's grandsons, keeping the ownership and management of the factories.


AnonymousFrançois de Wendel d'Hayange© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
In the nineteenth century, the enterprise was in full expansion. François de Wendel (1774-1825) and Charles de Wendel (1809-1870) consolidated the prosperity of the factories. François, in Hayange, bought the forges in Moyeuvre and Jamailles which he set about developing. With him started the Wendels' political involvement; he was député, President of the Conseil Général on the Moselle département. Charles, with his brother in law, Baron Théodore de Gargan, founded the city and forges of Stiring Wendel. He bought the coalmines in Petite Rosselle, which allowed him finally to possess the raw material necessary to feed the smelting furnaces, thus cumulating coal mines, iron mines and forges.

Charles was also at the origin of the Wendels' social policies; he created a workers' town, hierarchical and dominated by the presence of both management and factories that remained a model until the 1930's. This enlightened employer understood the importance of the railway very early, and he founded a network intended to connect the factories to one another and to that of the Compagnie des chemin de fer de l'Est.


Alphonse de NeuvilleThe Footbridge in Stiring, August 1870© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Annexed by Germany from 1870 to 1918, Lorraine then went through the darkest and most painful period in its history. During this period, Henri de Wendel (1844-1906) acquired the process invented by the British engineers Thomas and Gichrist to produce steel. Wishing to own a factory in France, the Wendels, associated with the Schneiders and the Seillière bank, founded the Joeuf factory in 1882. He had the château de Joeuf built for his children, who studied in France and rarely got permission to visit him in Lorraine. In 1905, his youngest son Maurice built in the grounds of this residence the Brouchetière castle for his family. The latter bought a hôtel particulier on the Avenue de New York in Paris.

Léon SimonThe Ironworks at Joeuf© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
There he reconstructed the decor of the hôtel de Besenval, designed in 1782 by Clodion and now at the Louvre, and he commissioned from the famous Catalan painter José-Maria Sert (1876-1945) a decor devoted to the Queen of Sheba now at the Musée Carnavalet.


AnonymousMadame de Wendel with her three sons posing for the Hayange stained glass in a Gothic decor© DR
In 1918, Henri's three sons - François II, regent of the Banque de France, president of the powerful Comité des Forges and politician, Humbert, gifted negotiator and Maurice, more interested in the field of company benefit schemes - shared the direction. The enterprise was at its peak when the Second World War began. The Wendels were expelled from Lorraine and the factories confiscated. Inhabitants of Lorraine had to choose between Germany and France, but were expelled in their turn if they chose to remain French… At the end of the war, the industrial situation changed. In 1946, coal mines were nationalised; the last historical great master of forges, François II de Wendel, died in 1949. The company, still directed by the family, suffered, in 1978, the great turmoil that weakened European steel-making and the entire de Wendel empire was nationalised without indemnity. But the banner of the de Wendels still floats on the world of enterprise.


AnonymousThe château in Brouchetière© DR
This exhibition evokes an industrial and human adventure led collectively by the Wendels, their directors and associates, employees and forge and mine workers in an area of Europe tormented by history.

It takes its place in the succession of documentary exhibitions devoted to such great dynasties of architects as the Vaudoyer (1991), of industrials as the Schneiders (1995), of artists as the Halévy family (1999).

AnonymousPanorama of the bank of Saint-Joseph pit in Petite Rosselle© DR
With paintings, sculptures, objects, models of places and machines, architecture or technical drawings and early photographs, this event unfolds around three main themes:

  • The history of the Wendel dynasty, from their settling in Hayange in 1704 until the death of the last "historical" master of forges, François II de Wendel (1874 – 1949). Painted and sculpted portraits (Carolus Duran, Ernest Hébert, Denis Puech), watercolours, drawings and photographs of the Hayange, Joeuf and Brouchetière castles, of the hôtels particuliers of the Rue de Clichy and of the Avenue de New York, various objects and souvenirs testify to the Wendels' lifestyle and to their feelings on the German annexation.

  • The great industrial improvements, technical and social: purchase of the forges in Hayange, foundation of the Creusot, forges and iron mines, exploitation of coal mines in Petite Rosselle (model of the bank of the Saint-Charles pit); presentation of the social benefits and of the workers' town in Stiring-Wendel, that remained a model until the 1930's.



  • photograph
    AnonymousThe Mine in Hayange, Ore Sorters© DR
    The life of Lorraine mine and factory workers. Most objects in this section come from Lorraine collectors, former Wendel workers, or from the remarkable museum of iron mines in Neufchef, near Hayange, entirely constituted and designed by former miners and employees of Lorraine forges.

    Jean-André RixensLaminating Steel: Forging Ingots© DR
    The most striking piece of this section is certainly André Rixens's large painting: Laminating Steel: Forging Ingots, a monumental work presented at the 1899 World Fair where it was awarded the gold medal. Annexed Moselle is presented with the large painting by Alphonse de Neuville, photographs and objects testifying to the tenacious faithfulness of this territory to France.